Ehud Olmert and
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas met
Thursday afternoon at the prime minister's official residence in Jerusalem amid Palestinian demands for clarifications regarding Israel's plans to expand construction in the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Har Homa and other settlements.
An informed Israeli official said that "the issues that have slowed down the negotiations have been neutralized."
According to sources in Jerusalem, during the two-hour meeting the leaders agreed that the sides would refrain from taking any steps that would hinder efforts to reach a permanent peace agreement, but Olmert did not guarantee Abbas that Israel would not build in Har Homa.
"The prime minister has not promised to freeze tenders that have already been published and are already underway," a senior Israeli official told reporters.
However, officials said, the PM did reiterate his commitment not to confiscate land or set up additional settlements in the West Bank.
Sources in Jerusalem told Ynet that, unlike in the past, the Palestinian demands raised during Thursday's discussions would not stall the negotiations and would be dealt with in upcoming meetings.
Olmert and Abbas initiallty met in private but were later joined by other officials from both sides.
On Wednesday Palestinian sources said Abbas had conditioned the advancement of the peace talks on the immediate halt of all settlement construction. According to them, additional gestures are required by Israel in order to increase the Palestinian people's trust in their president.
Israel's Har Homa plan has drawn rare criticism from the United States, Israel's key ally. Construction at the same settlement derailed a previous round of talks in 1997.
Israel has called on the Palestinians to meet their road map commitments to rein in militants in the West Bank and the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip as a condition for establishing a Palestinian state.
Hamas seized Gaza in June after routing Abbas' secular Fatah forces there.
Since Annapolis, Israel has also disclosed plans for new construction within the Maale Adumim settlement which the Jewish state hopes to keep as part of any final peace deal.
US President George W. Bush will visit the region early next month but it is unclear how Olmert and Abbas, weakened politically at home, can bridge their differences. Questions also remain regarding Bush's commitment to press for difficult compromises.
Reuters and Ali Waked contributed to this report